T Benicio Gonzales is the new director of the Center for Health Equity at the Louisville Department for Public Health and Wellness. Gonzales has worked with the department for nine years, and since last year has served as the center’s interim director. He’s a nationally-recognized expert in health equity issues.
Here are five of Gonzales’ priorities in his new role:
Focus Will Be Advancing Racial Equity
Gonzales says his initial reason for starting work at the department was to advance racial equity in health. That will remain his focus.
There are stark health differences in Louisville depending on where a resident lives. For example, in some neighborhoods in the western part of Louisville, life expectancy is 10 years behind other neighborhoods in the eastern part of town.
“And I will continue to focus on that every single day that I come here, because we have really have significant inequitable health outcomes across our community that all of us are responsible for addressing,” Gonzales said. “That’s also part of my own lived experience as a Mexican American person.”
It’s A Long Game
Gonzales sees the work of the health department as a long game. Though reaching goals in programming is important, he also sees his role as making it easier for future health department workers to continue the work.
“It really is a very long-term game,” Gonzales said. “My hope is that we have left it in a way that the people who are here after find it easy to be working to advance health equity every single day.”
Developing Policies For Transgender Employees
Gonzales is the first transgender person to have a leadership role within the department. He said that when he first started at the health department nine years ago, there weren’t policies to help him communicate with his colleagues that he was transitioning. He said he worked with the human resources department to address changing documentation and how to communicate the change to colleagues.
“It wasn’t laid out for me – how do I navigate that here at work?” Gonzales said. “So hopefully more of that information is available to people now that results in a smoother navigation of systems for future employees.”
Housing And Food Systems
Housing and food systems are two of the most pressing health issues facing Louisville residents, Gonzales said. Food insecurity, for instance, is a big issue in some neighborhoods in Louisville. That includes access to grocery stores and healthy options.
“Right now there’s this particular focus related to folks who are without housing,” Gonzales said. “And then once folks have housing, we want to think about the quality of that housing because of how it influences how healthy somebody can be.”
Equitable Recruitment And Hiring
Gonzales says he will work on programs to address inequities — both externally and also internally in the department. That will include making recruitment and hiring more equitable within the health department.
“I think one of the one of the examples that we were looking at in-house was maybe a carryover from a period past, which is about typing requirements – how fast somebody could type or how many words a minute,” Gonzales said. “Right now, [we’re] trying to look at if there are ways for us to be able to promote that [equity] a little bit more — making equity as our focus in our recruitment process, or in job interview questions or job postings.”